by Patrick Vicente April 04, 2018

Amputees could soon have access to cheaper prosthetic alternatives, thanks to a team of students at the University of Manchester who have designed a low-cost, 3D printed robotic prosthetic hand.

With its joints fully posable with each individual finger and the thumb being able to move as well as to make a fist, the functionality of the hand allows its user to do tasks such as picking up items, eating using a knife and fork, typing and clicking a mouse, or even playing rock-paper-scissors.

However, what makes the prototype limb standout is its cost. The students built the hand for just £307, with a premise that they can make it even cheaper. In comparison, an advanced robotic prosthetic limb can start at approximately £25,000 (about $35,000), going up to £60,000 (about $85,000) if bought privately. Even affordable robotic hands with just basic multi-grip functionality start at £3,000 (about $4,300).


The prosthetic model is the brainchild of Alex Agboola-Dobson and his team: lead electrical engineer Sebastian Preston-Jensen, lead software engineer Panagiotis Papathanasiou and mechanical and software engineers Maximillian Rimmer and Shao Hian Liew. The design won “best new development” in the Digital Innovation Challenge at the recent Industry 4.0 Summit and Factories of the Future Expo held at Manchester Central.

Not only do we want to make it affordable, we want people to actually like the look of it and not be ashamed or embarrassed of using or wearing it. Some traditional prosthetics can both look and feel cumbersome or, those that don’t, are extremely expensive. We think our design really can make a difference and we will be looking to commercialize the project in the future,” says Agboola-Dobson.

Another key advantage of the design is its connectivity, as it comes equipped with Bluetooth connectivity and a dedicated Android app. The hand is controlled by muscle sensors placed on the wearer’s arm that can be paired to the app. Agboola-Dobson adds, “The functionality is customized through the phone app, but the muscle sensors provide the control by moving the hand whenever necessary.”

The manufacturing of the hand is by stereolithography, or simply SLA printing, which uses a high-quality resin plastic for production. In the future, the team aims to move to Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing, which will make the hand even cheaper to produce without compromising quality.

 

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Patrick Vicente
Patrick Vicente

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